The Rights and Rights of Kettebell Swinging


It’s fast become the exercise that everyone wants to do.  Girls, guys, big people and small folk.  The move that is said to work every muscle in your body.  You see people walk up and down that gym floor passing the kettlebell rack and thinking hmmmmm…how hard can it be?  Looks straight forward enough.  Just did a random search for the kettlebell swing on Youtube and it yielded 77,000 results.  I then proceeded to search for a video with atrocious swinging and I actually struggled to do so.  However, it wasn’t too long before I found one.  Better still found a proper WTF image of a bad swing.  Check it out:



So today, (or Saturday 3rd August) I attended a kettlebell masterclass with Steve Cotter.  All I can say is WOW, a true athlete; if only I had half of his ability.  This was one of the toughest training sessions I had attended and the combination of technical application and physical exertion actually had me emotionally drained forgetting that I was in the room with a true legend and beginning to hate kettlebells.  Still, it is just as well that through my training with another legend in Scott Sonnon that I am confident I can break down the movement in my head and work on taking small steps at a time towards mastery.

Anyway, this post is specifically about the swing.  Steve’s opening lines in the seminar were about how there are different techniques and he believed there were merits to all of them.  Indeed, apart from the atrocious example above I have probably performed four different methods of this exercise which are as follows:

  1. The squat swing:  This is ketttlebell heresy to a lot of      ‘kettlebell gurus’.  It is the      technique that most people do when first lifting the bell.  You assume it must be some sort of squat      and front raise. The likelihood is that most kettlebell classes deploy      this method.  Certainly it is easy      to teach as most people already know how to squat (ish).  Interestingly though, one renowned coach      actually applies the squat mechanic to the exercise, namely Brent      Brookbush.  He believes that it is      good for athletes to improve their vertical displacement of force.  Check his video out

What this means for me is that if a client just finds the ‘true-styles’ too demanding and all they want is a workout I will just give them this technique.  Heck, as long as the back is straight it is safe and will get the heart rate up so who cares.  My only worry is the indignation of those that only know the ‘proper’ method and are stubborn enough to abhor anything else.

  1. Hard Style:  This is the technique that most people      will use after decent training.  It      needs more coaching as it applies the deadlift mechanic to the swing where      the force is more horizontally displaced.       It’s about transmitting maximum power to every swing.  It looks close to the method I learnt      from one of my original trainers Jon Mills.  Check out his promo video

Jon is part of the team behind a new Gym App called Gym Chum.  Apps are a great way to structure your workouts and stick to something coherent so have a play.

I said that this style is a bit like the true ‘Hard Style’ epitomised by the RKC brand of kettlebell training.  The only slight difference is the slap down from shoulder height you will see in this video.

The amazing throwing coach Dan John also looks as if he is teaching the same technique in his own funny way here:

The idea is that we have maximum load both going up and down by slapping the bell down.  Another way of doing this is the banded swing demoed here:

  1. The third method is what we      covered in the class called ‘fluid-style’ where we aim to conserve      energy.  Kettlebell competitions      take place and some events are endurance events where you have to keep      going for long durations of time.       Therefore, you need a method that is fluid and economical.  So the movement doesn’t have the      greatest inertia but you could carry on for a long time.  You also have to make intelligent use of      all your available levers so it is very technical.  It also applies to one-handed exercises      more.  Here it is in action

And this is a very brief video of Steve Cotter demonstrating both methods.

And a more detailed article detailing the differences between the hard and fluid styles.

  1. Then there is the craziest      method which still passes as OK and that is the Crossfit style or American      style swing where you bring the bell above your head (OMG).  This swing is brutal and performed by      these dudes

So my position is that you can choose anyone of these techniques that you like.  With me it is likely to be the hard style but I will perform some protocols with other styles to keep the workout fresh.  With every new stimulus your body gets something new to adapt to.  The body needs to function and move in a different way and find a specific energy pathway.  One thing is for sure though.  It is always worth investing in learning kettlebells from someone qualified as it is something that requires that level of skill.  You can probably get away with learning other exercises from You Tube but kettlebells are demanding in that sense.

Happy kettlebelling!!

A Fairer Fitness Test

Practically all of us have been put through some sort of fitness test, whether at school, by a doctor, a trainer or as part of our enrolment.  The trouble I find with is that most tests require a certain level of technical ability probably because they entail some sort of cardio exercise like running or cycling.  With these being very specific exercises it is hard to guage an accurate fitness level for all people as a ‘fit’ person may have an inferior running technique to a less ‘fit’ individual.  What if the ‘fitter’ person cannot even ride a bike??? Sometimes the exercises involved in the fitness test requires weights in which case you have to set regulations as to what men need to use and what women need to use.  So what if you have a light man like myself.  I’m fed up of authorising bodies setting a weight that only 75kg + men would comfortably manage.

So to address all this I came up with the ‘Lizzy’ Challenge.  The story behind it is a rather long one but it is a series of 8 bodyweight exercises performed back to back.  You count total reps and the target is 200.  It in itself is a great cardio/strength workout and a valuable reference point to return to and assess your current level of fitness.  The eight exercises are

1. Alternating Lunges

2. Press-ups (Girls can go on their knees but I do have girls that are happy to go on theirtoes and still hit 250 +)


3. Mountain climbers (will probably have to refer to the video for that one)

4. Bunny hops

5. Step-overs (a stepper or box will be needed for this and the previous exercise)

6. Bodyweight squats

7. V-situps

8. Star jumps (they may look silly for some but it is a good way to finish and take you to your PB)

Many thanks to my client Andrew for doing this workout on film.  His progress has been amazing.  Try the test yourself and let me know your results.


Advanced Bodyweight Circuit

Continuing with the bodyweight feature, I decided to make the most of the London sunshine (yes London) and my newly waxed chest by performing a bodyweight workout for the more advanced.  Workouts like this kind of prove a few things:

  • There is never any excuse not to train.  Even you bodybuilding freaks can build serious muscle and insane core strength with these exercises.
  • There is a bodyweight workout for everyone.  If you look at the basic workout performed by my client in the following Youtube video there really is no limit.  Even on a really basic level you have things like the flowfit and intuflow which form some of the core drills in Circular Strength Training.
  • Those of you into your yoga the half-crow exercise is the marker for you to see if your strength has been compensated by excessive yoga practice.  At some stage the strength developed through yoga needs to be taken to the next level and this is a really good exercise to help you with that.

So here are the four exercises

  1. 1.       One legged squat

Just stand on one-leg and squat as low as you can.  Use a tree-stump or pole for support if you’re not there yet

  1. 2.       Half Crow

Assume the down-dog position then take one knee to the corresponding elbow.  Keep the elbow tight then go into a quasi-handstand

  1. 3.       Rocking eagle

Starting in a forearm balance position go straight into a headstand.  Come out of it into the forearm balance and repeat.  Admittedly I cheated a bit by not coming out of the headstand properly but I was under pressure to do one take.

  1. 4.       One-handed push-up

Get on one hand and push up, simple.  Nick Tuminello gives a great tutorial on this.

So excuse the poor quality and enjoy the video

Top 5 Home-Workout Systems: #1 Bodyweight

I have previously mentioned how while the desire to keep fit has increased people have fallen out of love with gyms.  This is mainly because of the whole issue of binding contracts.  As a personal trainer in such a gym I kind of know how you feel.  You arrive at the door enquiring about membership, ‘Just tell me the friggin price!’.  If Mama Maria can have a menu up outside their cafe why can’t you just put up a price-list!  It is partly down to people’s lack of motivation to continue attending the gym.  I’ve said this before, those that are ever-present are the ones that got their results (mainly because of their good genetics) then they were scared to lose their results so they kept coming.

Another good way around this is to train at home.  Now let me be honest, this is very hard and requires a tremendous amount of discipline but it is important to know what you can use to train at home.  You open an Argos catalogue and you will be inundated with home exercise equipment and end up thinking that you need all of this.  Worse still, the person demonstrating the Ab-toner, chest-expander or wibbly-wobbly board will have an immaculate figure or physique.  So it is important you know which bit of kit is actually going to benefit you.  Hence, I will go into pieces of equipment that are available out there which I believe you can really get a good workout from.

And the number one bit of kit is nothing but yourself.  I wrote about the merits of bodyweight-training in an earlier post and got over 1200 views! So this seems to be a popular topic.

The hot girl up there is Zuzanna and she has a lot of bodyweight workouts on You Tube under the name  She also has a lot of other material online which is rather pleasant to watch 😉

Bodyweight training has no limits and works for every level.  If you’re looking for a really basic workout then go to this post and the corresponding video

Jessica Ennis Workout, 2

So my bessy mate from MWM was good enough to perform what I dubbed the Jessica Ennis Workout.  Of course, Jessy would never do this workout but all the exercises in this little circuit will contribute towards acquiring a similar figure.  In addition, a lot of the exercises that form her workout schedule would be far too advanced for us mortals.  Honestly, some people need to read the descriptions more.

Anyway, ramble over, here is the advanced version

Exercise 1, Plyometric step-up

So this is also a step-up but with a little hop and leg-drive which just allows for a bit more glute-activation.  That drive off the front foot is key.

Exercise 2, staggered-position push-up

Adopting the staggered position and using the stepper is a great way of enabling girls to perform their push-ups.  The staggered position just allows for more stability around the shoulder girdle so that pressing becomes a little easier.

Exercise 3, Squat -and-press

Athletes like Ennis tend to perform clean-and-press. An example of an advanced exercise for which we find an easier alternative.  Hence we have the squat-and-press.  Something anyone can perform pretty much.

Exercise 4, Weighted crunch

So now we add weight to the crunch to make it harder in order to get those ripped abs like Jessica.  We’re also partially observing something called the ‘power chamber’ which is now becoming central to the way we at Circular Strength Training work our abdominals whereby we make subtle internal changes to develop immense core strength.  Follow this link to learn more

So there you have it.  Now you can view the whole video and check the relevant post to see how you can perform this workout in different ways.

Jessica Ennis Workout, 1

Many months ago I forecasted that Jessica Ennis would become a Britsh Olympic hero.  I also knew that upon becoming so, girls up and down the country would be eager to find out exactly how to look like that. So naturally I decided to post a workout detailing how to work on all the individual elements that constitute such an amazing figure.

Basically, you have four exercises put together in the form of a circuit.  This in intself will raise the heart rate and create a series of microtraumas around the body creating an internal environment that is conducive to fat loss. Then we make each individual exercise target a specific area in the body:

Exercise 1, Step-ups

My favourite exercise for activating the glutes as I have tirelessly mentioned before.  Ennis has to work a lot on her hip-drive which is provided by insane strength in the gluteal area.  While she may be doing power cleans to work on this, the equivalent exercise for mortals like us would be the step-up, making sure the supporting leg is upright at the shin each time.  We combine the exercise with bicep-curls which also help tone the arms.

Exercise 2, Press-ups

While it still serves as a core exercise to work the abdominals, it is predominantly an important upper body strength exercise which helps tone the back of the arms

Exercise 3, Box squats

The point of making cam squat from a box is to allow her to fire her glutes each and every time.  Doing this with an upright tibia ensures that her quads are given less opportunity to come into play.  Holding a dumbell in a goblet position is just an easy way of adding resistance.

Exercise 4, Crunches

This is the way the people shall crunch.  Too many abdominal exercises over-activate the hip-flexors. Hold the knees in this 90 degree position by engaging the lower abdominals.  The hands stay behind the head to serve as extra resistance.  Then rise as one unit from the hands down to the navel.  Exhale fully at the top of the movement and hold for a second.  Then lower down slowly on a two-count.  This method eliminates psoas (hip) activity to get you close to that Jessy Ennis look.

Another close-up of my beautiful best friend Cameron always helps.  Now time to view the video.  Check the advanced version while you’re there.

Step before you squat

Squats and lunges have often been the first leg exercise of choice in the fitness community.  Practically every workout video includes them and so does every body pump class.  These are actually technically demanding, and there is also a danger of overloading the joints with real beginners.

But how easy is a step-up?  And here’s the best bit; you girls are more likely to ‘tone your butt’ (not an expression I should be using) with the step-up.  On lunges they keep telling us to have a 90 degree bend at both knees but this can stretch the hip flexor (an already tight area) excessively and cause a compensation at the back knee especially if there is a lack of balance.  With squats, someone may be quad dominant so nothing is working in the hip-area.  Also, if we only go down to parallel and pulse (like in bodypump) the knee really does not like this.  Steps however are more of a single-leg exercise  and single-leg training has been proven to address knee-pain.  Do you not believe me?  Check this article:

So this article goes through single-leg squats but the step-up is easier to execute.  There are so many variations and I talk you through a few of them in this video

And here is a simple 30 repetition workout demonstrated by the lovely Natasha

So step-ups are a win-win.  Glute activation, functionality, intensity and variety.  And as I mention in the video it is still important to squat and lunge, especially from a mobility point-of-view but if the form isn’t there neither are the mechanics, then why bother.  Work on perfecting the technique and achieve your fitness goals in the meantime with steps.  Oh and that does not include ‘Bodystep’.  A step-up needs to have a full extension at knee and hips.  The half extension in step-aerobics are also potentially problematic.  Maybe someone should come up with a step-aerobic workout where the knee and hip extend every time.

Unique bodyweight exercises; the flying worm

What on Earth is he doing? I here you say.  Well, in this day and age you have to do soemthing a bit different.  Most people will say and think something negative but a few will say, ‘Dude that is so cool!’  In any case democracy wins and I am putting up a post about a unique exercise I learnt from Circular Strength Training Head Coach Scott Sonnon.

It was in a masterclass at the end of 2011 and I believe he called it ‘The Worm’.  I’ve done the basic level to start with on the video below.  Then I incorporated the hand balance.  After that I have brought it in as part of your burpee and at the end it becomes a flying worm almost like a bodypop move.

What does it do? Well any kind of high-impact move is a calorie burner.  This move allows us to use more elastic recoil in the upper body.  It forces you to get a smooth curve along your spine to enhance absorption so good for mobility.  However, it was taught to us as part of a hip-extension drill and the photo shows that I have achieved the movement through freaky lower-back extension.  A better hip extension drill is the spinal rock demonstrated by my TACFIT family and of course, Coach Scott

Notice how perfectly coach does it with a good full extension at the hips in contrast with the other guys most of whom have tighter hips.  It takes time to perfect these exercises when we are aiming to achieve a specific movement.  I’m not saying my flying worm now is perfect but at least I can do it without crushing my crown jewels, touch wood.  Oh that’s right I did it on a wooden floor 😉

So all that’s left is for you to view the demo

Bodyweight Training: the dangers

So it looks like bodyweight training is really becoming more and more attractive to fitness enthusiasts.  Not so fast though; before you start doing jumping jacks and burpees in the park make sure that your body is ready for it all.  All that high impact stuff is great for improving athletic fitness and staying lean and agile but I do cringe when I watch people performing any variation of jumping exercise and then landing on the ground like elephants.

If we cannot land on the ground with almost pin-drop silence then that is a skill we need to learn.  There are two steps towards this, mobility and stability:

With mobility, the aim is to be able to swing your leg from the hip like a pendulum, forward and to the side.  The knee should also have a good degree of freedom being able to easily bring the heel to the butt.  The traditional ‘butt kick’ is often used as a warm-up but quad-presses are also important to train yourself to close that range of motion between heel and butt.  Check this video out for a tutorial in the quad press

So this not only is a great bodyweight exercise that few people practice but it helps encourage better mobility at the hip and knees in preparation for high impact jumping exercises.  Basically, good hip mobility allows you more ‘hang-time’ before you hit the ground, allowing you to use more elastic recoil to absorb energy.

Such hip mobility may be compromised by tight IT bands, the band of connective tissue going down the side of your thigh.  For this, only foam rolling seems to work.  Brent Brookbush gives a great demo on this and a whole heap of other stuff:

Make sure you view the accompanying videos on this subject.

As for stability then you need to train your glutes to perform their job of being the first line of defence for your knees.  Not all leg exercises are created equal and if you are quad dominant, no matter how much you squat or lunge your upper hams and glutes will not get enough work.  So practice step-ups with an upright shin or box-squats, perhaps even TRX squats which will help shift emphasis to the posterior chain of muscles.

Swiss ball curls and glute bridge exercises will really target the back line as well.

At some stage I will provide a more image-based article on going through the above progressions.  Until then be careful about your bodyweight exercises.  I still stand by my view that CST instructors have the best knowledge regarding which bodyweight exercises are best for you.


Newly updated; head over to the workouts section and read the article step before you squat with a video tutorial.

Bodyweight training, the next big thing

So this is definitely no gimmick.   Due to a number of factors like binding gym contracts and the growing popularity of bootcamp exercises bodyweight training is now becoming more and more popular, especially when you have people like Zuzannah demonstrating them on Bodyrock TV

Working with our own bodyweight means that we become relatively strong managing our own bodyweight, we enhance core strength and encourage greater mobility as we are no longer so restricted to specific angles and directions.  On that note, I do believe that circular strength straining has the best array of bodyweight exercises.  Others seem to be so last year with nothing much more than burpees and press-ups.  Look at how our Singapore friend demonstrates some of the exercises from Circular Strength Training:

These are the best moves because they are circular movements.  Look at all your joints and you’ll find that they articulate some sort of circular movement.  Scott Sonnon’s aim behind our training system is to restore the movement we had as kids.  The foundation to our system is the FLOWFIT the progressions for which are demoed again by our singapore colleague

Another version demoed by Aussie coach Donna Eddy

The more advanced bodyweight exericses involve holds, hand-balances, pull-ups, muscle-ups etc.  A great rundown of this, known as ‘bodyweight isometrics’ is provided in the following article which for some reason is only opening on mobiles:

Or you might be partial to something like this from the calisthenic kingz

Bodyweight training enhances one’s athletic fitness, the type of fitness which doesn’t get lost very easily.  The type of fitness that keeps a person lean.  It’s almost like your body now knows it has to stay lean because of what you have conditioned it for, dynamic movement and agility.